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Omicron surge leads to more people seeking COVID-19 tests

COVID-19 testing
COVID-19 testing(weau)
Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 5:53 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - As the COVID-19 Omicron variant continues spreading throughout Wisconsin and the U.S., the increase in cases is putting a strain on all levels of the COVID response, including testing.

With record case numbers in Wisconsin, which the State Department of Health Services said is being caused by Omicron, more people are trying to get tested for the virus.

At the community testing site a Jacob’s Well Church in Lake Hallie, vehicles are lining up for a drive-thru swab.

“We had the capacity for the same number of tests last year at this time with our community testing site. It was in a different location, but no, we did not see the kind of numbers that we’re seeing at this time this year,” said Aimee Wollman Nesseth of the Northwest Wisconsin Emergency Health Care Readiness Coalition.

She oversees the Jacob’s Well site.

While she can’t say for sure the recent testing demand is directly caused by Omicron, more people have been visiting the testing site since the variant’s surge.

“We have have the capacity to do more tests,” Wollman Nesseth said.

She said the city currently can do 200 daily tests. It’s able to increase that number to 300.

White capacity could increase, so could wait times if staffing becomes an issue.

“We know that health care personnel are in very short supply across the state,” Wollman Nesseth said. “All of our long-term care facilities, to our hospitals, to our clinics are experiencing the same staffing shortages right now. The fact that we have Wisconsin National Guard at all is a gift to us right now.”

She said the turnaround for PCR tests could take multiple days.

That’s why Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese said people who are feeling sick should assume they’re contagious and stay home while waiting for results.

“If people have symptoms, they need to stay home,” she said. “I think that’s the first information we need to share with people. Right now we have disease circulating. It might not be COVID but certainly if you have significant enough respiratory symptoms or other symptoms that you’re seeking a test, you don’t want to pass that to anybody.”

Both Prevea Health and Mayo Clinic Health System said they’re experiencing increased demand for tests.

For a list of testing sites in Eau Claire County, click here.

Thursday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced the state will require all insurance plans cover over-the-counter at-home tests starting Saturday.

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